Many minds, one project: the American Folk Art Museum is a collection of multitudes. Marking the occasion of the Museum’s 60th anniversary, the displays on view mine this figurative expression as a metaphor for the vast breadth of the Museum’s holdings and its many creators. From its inception in the 1960s and gathering momentum over the decades, AFAM developed as a “collection of collections,” a result at once unified and expressive of numerous perspectives.
Omnipresent throughout the exhibition is the concept of multitudes as reflected in the artistic process itself—from gestures of repetition and seriality, as well as organizing acts of systematization, memorialization, inventory-taking, and the creation of casts of characters. Meanwhile, across the galleries, groupings prompt a consideration of art-making and collecting as aligned creative practices, each contributing to identity-formation and world-building. Presented non-chronologically, the works are visually clustered to reveal not only their individuality but also their commonalities and underlying patterns.
Moving across four centuries, AFAM’s collection brings together a rich array of voices, experiences, and mindsets, yielding a correspondingly diverse set of objects: community-based creations rooted in long-standing traditions; functional but highly aesthetic objects reflecting widespread popular practices; distinctive works by neurodivergent individuals made outside the purview of artistic peers; works as fragments entangled in lifelong private mythologies. Rejecting artificial and discriminatory boundaries prevalent in dominant art historical narratives, by which formally trained artists are often constrained, the identity of the Museum’s collection has been formed and reformed over the years by newly-added makers and fresh ideas. The idea of multitudes invites a meditation on the complexities of the Museum’s evolving and multifaceted collection as a larger whole, constituting more than the sum of its parts.
Curators: Emelie Gevalt and Valérie Rousseau
This exhibition is supported in part by The Bresler Foundation, Fleur Bresler, the Juliet Lea Hillman Simonds Foundation, the American Folk Art Society, the David Davies and Jack Weeden Fund for Exhibitions, the Stacy C. Hollander Fund for Exhibitions, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.
Learning and engagement programming is sponsored in part by the Sparkjoy Foundation and Con Edison.
A special thank you to the many individuals who have gifted the artworks included in this presentation, as well as to Sadé Ayorinde and Steffi Ibis Duarte for their curatorial assistance.